Ashforth’s Angles: Time to celebrate our veteran trainers

Mick Easterby

Mick Easterby: trainer and probable immortal is still working aged 85

  PICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)  

OLD soldiers never die, so it is traditionally said, and it’s similar with racehorse trainers. They do occasionally die but not very often and not while there’s a horse in their yard that looks as if it might be half-decent.

Last week it was John Gosden’s 65th birthday. Unless I missed it he didn’t say, “Yes, I’m retiring. I’m handing the reins over to Rachel, my wife. I’ll still be here to tell her what she’s doing wrong, except when I’m at the Probus Club or walking the dog, if we’ve got one; at my age it’s difficult to remember.”

No, I expect Gosden was partying into the morning and at about three o’clock said, “There’s not much point going to bed now. I think I’ll feed the horses myself this morning.”

For most people, 65 is a significant number, redolent of state pensions and more spare time to complain about how much worse things are than they used to be but trainers are different. They don’t seem to notice and just carry on regardless.

On the same day that Gosden was 65, Mick Easterby was 85. I don’t suppose anyone bothered to ask if he was going to retire. Easterby must have been appalled in 1996, when his brother Peter, then aged 66, retired, although Peter’s son Tim probably told him to, so he could take over.

Champion trainer Richard Hannon stood down when he was 68 but he cleverly named his son after himself in the hope that no one would notice.

It’s easier for Mick Easterby because he’s immortal which reminds me of my days as a lecturer when a student handed in an essay on population growth during the industrial revolution. She wrote, “the rate of immortality fell” which allowed me to remark “it never was very high”.

Easterby’s doing well but still has four more years to go before he matches Reg Hollinshead, who still held a trainer’s license in 2013, when he died aged 89. That was the same age as the redoubtable Mrs Louie Dingwall, who trained on the sands at Sandbanks in Dorset until shortly before her death in 1982. She still rode out in her eighties.

Milton Bradley, 81, isn’t riding out but he’s still training, as is Ron Thompson, aged 77.

Races for veteran horses are popular and I’m looking forward to a similar series for veteran trainers. The winner of the series would be entitled to a new hip or knee.

Judging from the runners at Catterick, Lingfield, Kempton and Nottingham, there’d be no shortage of candidates.

Gosden (Kempton and Nottingham) and Easterby (Catterick) are both represented, as is Sir Michael Stoute (70, Kempton and Lingfield). After Easterby, pride of place goes to Neville Bycroft (82, Catterick), Wilf Storey (78, Catterick), Peter Hedger (76, Kempton), John Bridger (74, Kempton), Jimmy Fox (73, Kempton), Les Eyre (72, Catterick and Lingfield), Pam Sly (72, Nottingham), Henry Candy (71, Nottingham), John Jenkins (68, Kempton) and Pat Phelan (65, Kempton).

Being 67 myself I hope there’s a winner in there somewhere.

 

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